Event Theme: Hope

Question: Why do we need hope?

Suggested Readings

Ecology of Hope, Linda Tanner.

Ecology of Hope, Linda Tanner.

Live. Love. Matter.

When we feel that hope is lost, we must remember that no emotion is ever “had” or “lost,” but merely generated or not generated based on our current thoughts, actions, and focus. Thus, we are either generating hope or we are not. If we lack hope, we have simply lost focus and perspective — we’ve become myopic and obsessed about our immediate days or our string of difficult moments. In these darker times we must expand our awareness and consciousness to the greater stream of life that is happening all around. To generate hope:

  1. Keep perspective. When the dark clouds of despair gather, remember to look for the joys and smiles and sunlight of life. There is a lot of positivity out there and much to feel blessed and grateful for.
  2. Rekindle our strengths. If hope feels lost, spend time thinking about and journaling about some of the good days, about your wins, about your loved ones, about your strengths, about your blessings… remember and FEEL them and integrate those positive recollections and emotions into your body.
  3. Make a plan. Sit down and think of three things you can do today to progress your life, your career, and your relationships. What three things can you do in each area today? And tomorrow? Just keep taking life by the day, always moving toward your dreams or seeking new experiences and learnings in order to discover them. Progress will bring you more hope.
  4. Be patient. Let’s be real: to achieve your dreams it’s going to take time. Be okay with that. When you’re cool with the time and effort it takes to achieve meaningful things, you’re more apt to be patient with yourself and with others. Your day is coming, your time is near, your dreams are closer than you imagine. One day at a time my friend.

Facebook post by Brendon Burchard, September 13, 2014

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Ecological Civilization by Tucker Nichols (c) 2015.

Ecological Civilization by Tucker Nichols (c) 2015.

What Can We Hope For?

In reaction to passive forms of hope, Derrick Jensen, a leading environmental activist and writer, urges us to move “beyond hope.” He writes, “Many people say they hope the dominant culture stops destroying the world. By saying that, they’ve assumed that the destruction will continue…and they’ve stepped away from their own ability to participate in stopping it…. When we realize the degree of agency we actually do have, we no longer have to “hope” at all. We simply do the work. We make sure salmon survive. We make sure prairie dogs survive. . . We do whatever it takes.” For Jensen, hope immobilizes action; to be hopeful is to be helpless.

Jensen’s reaction to hope as an excuse for irresponsibility is warranted. There is a kind of hope that leads to passivity. But it’s not just hope that can cripple initiative. Pessimism and despair are equally liable to constrain action. And so are extreme forms of optimism.

There is nothing simple about hope. Take, for example, the radical and alarming hope of those who propose geo-engineering as a solution to climate change. Theirs is a brew of total pessimism about human nature and our ability to overcome our carbon addiction, and total optimism in technology and our ability to manage entire earth systems. Hope and its varieties are based on assumptions about what we’re capable of doing and about what is important and possible. Those assumptions are the outcome of often-unstated philosophical assumptions.

I think it’s telling that when John Cobb formulated this plenary session, he didn’t ask the question, “Is hope possible?” Instead, he asked us to consider, “What can we hope for?” That question assumes that hope is possible, is feasible, despite the very grave circumstances that are the reason for this conference. As John wrote in a pre-conference essay, “Our inaugural conference is based on the hope that hope will help.”

The reason why hope is feasible for someone like John Cobb is because it is part of a metaphysics that makes it so. That metaphysics is process thought. Process thought offers a way of understanding reality that makes radical hope possible. By “radical hope” I mean hope that is sustained not simply by sheer force of personal conviction or by willful ignorance of reality or because of a privileged immunity from reality’s worst contingencies. Radical hope is secured—in its roots—by a metaphysics that affirms: change and possibility, agency and power, novelty and creativity, and value and importance.

These are philosophical concepts that secure hope as something real, not to be dismissed, in spite of what we know about the depletion of topsoil, the death of coral reefs, the oil spill in Santa Barbara, and on and on. Amidst this proliferation of tragedies, it is not still naïve to ask the question, “What can we hope for?” because there is a process-relational metaphysics in which certain things are possible, including hope– even in a time of mass extinctions, even in a time of ecocide.

Sandra Lubarsky presented this plenary address for the Seizing an Alternative conference, Section V: Ecological Civilization, June 5, 2015. Read the full address.

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